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Comcast’s Cloud DVR Rolls Into Boston

The video future of Comcast’s X1 platform got a bit cloudier Tuesday with the launch in Boston of a network-powered DVR service and in-home live video streaming apps for IP-connected mobile devices, set-tops and gateways -- capabilities that are rolling out roughly eight months after the MSO introduced them at The Cable Show.

Comcast has tacked those new components to its X1 DVR service, which already features a newly upgraded cloud-based interface that’s designed to run on set-tops, gateways, smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Although authenticated TV Everywhere services that can be accessed by customers outside the home have become central to Comcast’s video services strategy, access to most of these new cloud-powered features is limited to within the reach of subscribers’ home Wi-Fi networks.

The new “X1 DVR with Cloud Technology,” for example, lets customers access recorded shows and movies stored on  Comcast’s network servers and play them back via the MSO’s managed IP video network to devices that are hanging off the customer’s home network. “The X1 DVR with cloud technology is part of your in-home DVR service and is limited to the range of your personal in-home XFINITY Network,” the FAQ on the product explains.

MSOs such as Comcast are interested in cloud DVRs in part because they are less costly and more operationally efficient than traditional DVRs that put storage in the local set-top. The use of IP and network-based storage also allows the system to serve content to a multitude of device types.

In-home streaming of Comcast’s full, live TV lineup is also delivered over the operator’s managed IP network.

Video portability and mobility are coming into play, however, with a new “check-out” feature that allows customers to sideload unique copies of DVR recordings to tablets and smartphones (up to a maximum of ten recordings per device) for offline, on-the-go viewing. Like a library book, customers must check-in/return recordings before they can be downloaded and played back on other authorized devices. Comcast is not yet offering this DVR check-out feature on PCs.

In Boston, where Comcast first launched X1 in mid-2012, Comcast is supporting many of the new X1 cloud services features on Web browsers and a new “Xfinity TV” app for Apple iPhones and iPads. Comcast plans to extend support to Android-powered devices later this year, according to an online FAQ about the service.

Comcast’s first iteration of the cloud DVR will provide 500 gigabytes of video storage and allow customers to record up to four shows at once while watching a fifth, though the operator has plans to expand it so customers can record up to six shows while watching a seventh (Cablevision’s recently relaunched network-based Multi-Room DVR, which currently limits access to set-top boxes, lets customers record up to ten shows at once).

Comcast’s FAQ on cloud DVR recording and playback features notes that customers are allowed to register up to 40 devices for in-home live TV or DVR streaming, and stream DVR-recorded content to up to five devices at the same time.

On the set-top end of the equation, Comcast’s new cloud DVR service is currently capable of running on the XG1, a hybrid QAM/IP HD-DVR for the X1 platform that the operator currently sources from Pace and Arris. Comcast and its suppliers are also developing a “headless” gateway called the XG5 as well as an all-IP HD client device dubbed the Xi3. Comcast has not announced when it will deploy either of those models.

Comcast said it plans to introduce the new cloud DVR and in-home live streaming capabilities for the X1 platform to additional markets later this year. It didn’t say which markets were next in line, but Philadelphia has been the site of earlier cloud DVR trials.

“We want to provide customers with the best television experience on every device, when they want it and where they want it,” said Matt Strauss, senior VP and general manager, video services, Comcast Cable, in a statement. “The cloud-based infrastructure of the X1 platform allows us to deliver on that promise, and give customers a more personalized viewing experience. We look forward to providing these features to more customers this year.”

Boston, home to Comcast’s first cloud DVR rollout, happens to be located in the network DVR-friendly Second Circuit, which, in 2008, overturned a lower court ruling that handed a big victory to Cablevision and its network-based DVR. Last year, Cablevision blasted a broadcaster-led lawsuit against Aereo, claiming it was “overreaching and damaging” because it took aim at the legal underpinnings of the MSO’s remote-storage DVR and other cloud-based storage services. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the broadcasters’ appeal of the denial of their injunction request against Aereo.